Warhol’s ‘Athletes’ series heads to auction alongside other works from the Richard L. Weisman collection

Warhol’s ‘Athletes’ series heads to auction alongside other works from the Richard L. Weisman collection
Andy Warhol’s Athletes series, created individually between 1977 and 1979. Courtesy Christie's.

‘I personally don’t like to limit the scope of my collecting – I just love the art.’ Richard L. Weisman, a businessman who passed away last year, once made that remark about his collection, some of which is soon to hit the auction block at Christie’s. Beginning this fall, a number of works once belonging to Weisman will feature in a number of auctions. Overall, the collection of works is expected to go for more than $15 million. Within the selection of works from Weisman, a number of high-profile artists are represented including James Rosenquist, Peter Beard, Norman Rockwell, Tom Wesselmann, Alberto Giacometti, and Roy Lichtenstein. However, a series of works, entitled ‘Athletes’, by Andy Warhol are expected to be a favourite amongst buyers.

Ten prints in total, the square canvases depict various sports stars of the day in multi-colour acrylic and silkscreen. The series was completed over the course of two years beginning in 1977 and in 2009, they became even more famous when they were stolen from Weisman’s home. Obviously, he eventually got the artworks back but the event only added to the interesting history of the series.

Warhol was not one for sports, according to Weisman who once said ‘Andy didn’t really know the difference between football and golf ball.’ Christie’s head of evening sale, post-war and contemporary art, Sara Friedlander stated in the press release that ‘[r]ecognizing the growing commercialization of sports, it is through this series that Weisman challenged Warhol to embrace the changing nature of fame as athletes and sports stars rose to take center stage in American popular culture,’ So, in the end, Weisman chose the star athletes and Warhol began the portraits starting with photos he took on his Polaroid Big Shot.

Each of the works in the series will be auctioned on its own beginning in November. ‘Athletes’ features a number of stars like professional jockey Willie Shoemaker, basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, tennis players Vitas Gerulaitis and Chris Evert, now controversial American football player OJ Simpson, and figure skater Dorothy Hamill. Most of the prints are expected to bring in between $150,000 and $350,000, however, a couple of them could exceed that. One of which is a portrait of Pelé, the Brazilian footballer sensation who is still ranked fifth for goals scored in the FIFA World Cup, and holds a pre-sale estimate of $400,000-$600,000. However, it is Warhol’s print of Muhammad Ali, one of the biggest names ever in boxing, that could take the top spot as it is expected to bring in between $4 million and $6 million alone.

Other highlights to come to auction from the Weisman collection include Harvest Moon, a Rockwell painting estimated between $1 million and $1.5 million, which will lead the sales. George Hughes’ 1950s cover illustration for the Saturday Evening Post entitled Summer Romance Spoiled could bring in between $30,000 and $50,000. In addition to these, the painting that started it all will bring the auction full circle for Weisman’s life as a collector. Early Urge, an 1955 Robert Matta piece, set to sell for $80,000-$120,000, was the first work Weisman ever collected and will also soon hit the auction block, too.